Most Americans purchase fish already fileted before grilling, but there are some substantial missed opportunities in doing so. I know a whole fish can seem intimidating, however once you actually buy one, and give it a look-see, you’ll realize they’re not that scary at all. A good fish monger will scale and gut your whole fish, so no worries about needing to whip out your pocket knife in the kitchen. The biggest benefit in cooking a whole fish versus filet are their sweet, juicy and just came out of the water taste, mostly due to the fact that it still has it’s bones. Did I dare say, “bones”. Yep, sure did. Bones are not the enemy, but the thing that brings flavor to protein, just like beef, pork and chicken. The difference with a whole fish is that you might, and I say, might, get a bone here or there in some bites, but it’s not a big deal. Bones provide tenderness and keep the fish in tact when grilling.
Branzino, or Mediterranean Sea Bass is a great place to start if grilling a whole fish for the first, or second time. They’re smallish in nature and very easy to separate into two filets after grilling. Another delightful feature about whole fish is that the prep is super easy, just stuff the cavity with some fresh herbs and lemon slices and rub down in oil and it’s ready for the grill. I did remove the head of my branzino, but you can leave it on if you feel that’s too weird for you. It really doesn’t matter one way or the other because most of us are not going to eat it (I do have my limitations) and some members of the family may feel uncomfortable with it looking up at them during dinnertime.
The biggest concern I see for some in grilling a whole fish is how to remove the filets off the bones, or skeleton? Well, it’s easy and it gets even easier after you do it a couple of times, and your best tools are two spoons. Using a spoon, insert down one side of the backbone, while holding the fish in place with the other spoon. Glide the spoon gently down it’s spine on one side, and lift up the filet from it’s skeleton. Flip the fish over and repeat on other side, leaving the skeleton on the serving plate. Even if you don’t get it in one whole filet, you can make a second pass and remove the fresh meat by scooping it up. Trust me, it’s worth every delicate succulent bite.
1 whole branzino, cleaned and scaled
1 whole lemon sliced
5 sprigs fresh dill
4 tablespoons butter
salt & pepper
- Remove fish from any packaging and pat dry with paper towels. Using scissors, cut the fins from fish on both sides. Remove head, if desired. Heat grill to 400 degrees, or until coals are light grey.
- Lay 3 sprigs of dill in fish cavity and 4-5 lemon slices. Rub fish with oil (so it doesn’t stick to grates) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- In a small saucepan over simmering heat, add butter. Mince remaining dill and set aside.
- Place with on grill and cook for about 6 minutes. Using a spatula, gently flip over. Cook for another 5-6 minutes. A whole fish takes a little longer to cook because it’s whole and you don’t need to worry as much about over cooking.
- Add 1 teaspoon minced dill to melted butter and stir. Remove fish from grill and place on serving plate. Sprinkle fish with remaining minced dill and lemon. To serve, use spoons to remove filets (read above). Serve with dill butter. Enjoy!